When I first started work at the University, I drove our car. I parked in the staff lot behind the library and entered the building through the back door next to a dumpster.
(Actually for the first month or so I took the bus, or two buses rather, a forty minute trip instead of a ten minute drive.)
I drove for almost a year, and then I started riding my bike. Getting to the University from the Warehouse District was a bit tricky, involving a lateral move under the interstate near the Times-Picayune, a maneuver which is now blocked by a chain-link fence.
Once I arrived on campus, I would lock my bike up at a rack in the quad and enter the library through the front door. I found this new approach refreshing. Coming through the quad made me feel I was in a special place. In my previous routine I wouldn’t see the quad at all unless I looked out the window of our conference room.
The aesthetics of the quad are of course more appealing than the industrial-style service entrance I had been using. There’s open space, green grass, trees, and a great sculpture by John Scott. It is surrounded by academic buildings and crisscrossed by students and faculty as well as staffers like myself.
Seeing all this reminds me that I am at a university, and that we have a special purpose in coming together here. It reminds me that, at our best, we are a spiritual community engaged in the holy chore of learning.
The quad serves no productive function. It is a beautiful example of sacred space. Being in that space every morning helps me focus on the work I do and the mission we share.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because my morning route and routine has changed yet again. It has changed every time we’ve moved, of course, and also when my daughter’s daycare situation has changed, since I drop her off in the morning. Our most recent configuration had me contemplating the Toni Morrison Interchange. (Here I must insert the obligatory note that the Toni Morrison Interchange has nothing to do with the famous author. It was named after deLesseps Morrison, Jr..) That would be the quickest way — but as Rob Walker noted in Letter from New Orleans, the interchange is “highly unpleasant.”
I’ve always sought out the quickest and most efficient route to work. It’s something of an obsession, something of a game, and most of all indicative of a general mindset that values efficiency above all else. But in this case the quickest route is just plain depressing, not to mention dangerous, on a bicycle.
Another route would be to take the Jeff Davis overpass. I’ve done that for many years, but now it’s “out of the way.” It’s a bit longer, a bit less efficient.
And yet it’s so much more pleasant. Much like my experience with the quad, this isn’t about efficiency or productivity int he narrow sense of those words. It’s a better way to start my day. My new route takes me alongside Bayou St. John, which is beautiful. I miss seeing the bayou as frequently now that we’ve moved a little further away. I pass by the tree where my daughter was named.
And so I realized the quickest route is not always the best.